Separate state conventions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention in Texas that parted ways during the SBC conservative resurgence now face challenges of their own generated by current controversies over homosexuality and President Donald Trump.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board on Tuesday formalized the ouster of three churches declared “outside of harmonious cooperation” because they fully include LGBT persons as members.
Meanwhile, leaders of the competing Southern Baptists of Texas Convention are awaiting resolution of concerns about the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention prompting a major financial supporter to temporarily freeze denominational funding.
According to the Baptist Standard, the governing body of the BGCT voted 63-6 to disassociate with Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, First Baptist Church in Austin and Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.
Convention officials notified the Dallas and Austin congregations in advance of the state convention’s annual meeting last November they faced likely ouster for policies that “publicly affirm same-sex sexual behavior.” The third congregation in Waco voted to become “welcoming and affirming” since the fall convention.
Messengers at the 2016 BGCT annual meeting passed a motion that “any church which affirms any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a marriage between one man and one woman be considered out of harmonious cooperation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.”
During debate some messengers warned the action could prompt some congregations that in the past have supported the convention financially to find alternative ways to cooperate for state missions.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship governing board voted Feb. 10 to affirm creation of Fellowship Southwest, a network of CBF regions in Texas, Oklahoma and the far west, “to promote Baptist identity, Christian cooperation and to accomplish effective mission and ministry among related partners.”
Network leaders will convene in May for a planning retreat to discuss mission and ministry priorities, organizational structure and future full-time leadership, according to a CBF news release.
The BGCT is one of two Baptist organizations in the state affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, formed in 1998 by churches deeming the BGCT too liberal, is also on alert after a Dallas-area megachurch announced it is withholding funds while leaders reevaluate their relationship with both the state and national denominational bodies.
Monday’s Wall Street Journal described the decision by Prestonwood Baptist Church to place $1 million in escrow rather than sending the money to its umbrella organization as “a tangible sign of the internal struggle over the direction of the country’s largest Protestant denomination.”
The action, first reported by the Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana, is in response to “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
ERLC President Russell Moore has been criticized of late for his vocal opposition to Donald Trump during last year’s presidential campaign and negative comments about Trump’s evangelical supporters.
Prestonwood Pastor Jack Graham, a past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Wall Street Journal in December the 40,000-member megachurch was “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“There was a disrespectfulness toward Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders, past and present,” Graham said of Moore’s performance. “It’s disheartening that this election has created this kind of divisiveness.”
This week Graham, a member of Trump’s evangelical executive advisory board, took to Twitter to clarify “our decision to escrow our SBC funds for now is not and never has been about Trump. It is a leadership question.”
“After 40 years of CP support @Prestonwood, we are evaluating our giving and looking for ways to continue not discontinue our partnership,” Graham tweeted Feb. 21. “On a personal level, I’ve been giving to the SBC since putting my allowance in a Lottie Moon Mission offering envelope as a 5-year-old boy. I love the work of (Southern) Baptists. Period.”
In a Feb. 17 Baptist Press story reporting on Prestonwood’s decision to escrow funds, Moore, ERLC president since 2013, said: “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”